It must be a windy day because the rumor mill is turning at full tilt. Every time a new firmware has come out for the PS3, no matter how big or minor, there have been uppity fanboys demanding to know where the In-Game XMB is. Well apparently it's coming in June. That's according to PSU who has been wrong before (see Firmware 2.0 post). Sony has said though that they intend to implement the feature in the near future. It's expected that the In-Game XMB will be released in Firmware 2.4. Sony is apparently going through the current game library to see if there are compatability issues and an SDK is due out at the end of June to allow new games to take full advantage of it. The SDK apparently allows for user music in games. The main draw behind In-Game XMB is to allow chat without having to quit the game.
One officially announced feature of 2.4 is the addition of a trophy system, similar to the one used on Xbox Live. PixleJunk Eden is said to be listed as the first game to support it. The idea behind all of this is to make PSN competative with the arguably superior Xbox Live. So far, the PS3's online capability has been pretty sparse, though it is still a free service.
Update: Another rumored feature for 2.4 is the revolutionary In-XMB clock! Development videos seem to show a clock and calendar in the corner of the XMB. I've always found it odd that the PS3 doesn't have a a clock, despite the fact that you can program the date and time into it. Ironically, the menu for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue does and throws in weather as a bonus. It's not often you see software that has a better, more functional menu than the OS.
Good gravy with a steaming load of horse manure. 2K Games has officially announced that Bioshock, previously an Xbox 360 exclusive, will be released for the Playstation 3. You may remember I didn't have a lot of good things to say about the PC version of this game. This was mainly due to the crippling bugs and controversial SecuROM DRM system, which was even included with the demo (in a cut down form) for some bizarre reason. The rumor that the game might be moving to the PS3 has persisted for months on end. Most of us saner people figured it was just that, a rumor. 2K made it official today. The release date is set to be around the 2008 Christmas season.
Will I play it? The PC version left almost as bad a taste in my mouth as Ron Jeremy's butter. Still, I do want to play the game. Hopefully, this will be programmed from the ground up to run on the Cell BBE rather than being a port of the 360 version. From past experience, sloppy ports (such as Orange Box) don't get along with the PS3. Given the dog's breakfast that the PC version was, I can't be too optimistic at this point. This will definitely be a rent first title.
Yet another new PSP bundle to add to the growing list. I didn't mention this one in the review. Like the Daxter bundle I did mention, this one seems to be of excellent value too. The new bundle features a new colour, metallic blue. This pack is for football fans. It includes a copy of Madden 09. EA's flagship football franchise is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year. Additionally, it comes with "NFL: Just one Play" UMD movie, 1gb memory stick, and a Playstation Store voucher to download Beats, a rythm game. According to the PS Blog, Beats works with your own music collection. It's like Guitar Her on the go with custom tracks. Reviews of it have been positive.
Overall, this is an excellent value if you like football. Besides the Daxter pack, this is the only other PSP bundle worth buying.
When I first started this blog, my first post was a list of things that I thought the PSP needed to improve it. Some have been done, others haven't. I've talked about it on and off but I've never done a review of it. After writing up on the DS, I'd thought it was time for the PSP to get full rundown. As I mentioned in the DS review, Nintendo has long dominated the handheld console market. Others have tried with mixed success. Enter Sony who's widely successful Playstation line was crushing Nintendo's once successful console business. If anything could bring Gameboy down, Sony could.
The Playstation Portable, or PSP for short, was first released late 2004 in Japan and arrived in North America March 2005. Here in Canada, it sold at the hefty price tag of $249 for the core system and $299 for a Value Pack which threw in a 32mb memory stick duo, headphones, strap, and pouch. The system currently retails for $169.99 for the core system and $199.99 for one of three value packs.
As with the DS, we'll start by looking at it's hardware. The PSP is a rectangular shapped system. It features a single glossy 4.3'' LCD screen with a resolution of 480x272 with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. The screen is polarized but its glossy nature renders it difficult to see in certain lighting conditions, particularly outdoors. However, the screen itself is bright and colours are rendered well. There are four levels of brightness controlled by a simple button under the screen. LCD response times are a little slow in games with high speed such as WipEout Pulse.
Under the hood, the system is powered by a 333mhz MIPS R4000 CPU with 32mb of RAM. An unidentified GPU runs at 166mhz with 2mb of on-board VRAM. Originally, the CPU had been locked at 266mhz, presumably as a power reduction feature. However, a recent firmware update unlocked the processor to its full speed allowing for more complex games. Game performance is on par with earlier Playstation 2 titles so it's not inaccurate to call the PSP a portable PS2. The system runs off a lithium-polymer battery which provides up to 11hrs of music and 5-6hrs of gameplay or movies. An extended life battery provides 20% extra play time but is not entirely compatible with the new, slimmer PSP models. It fits but requires a special cover. This battery has since been discontinued though third party units are probably available.
The games themselves are stored on proprietary UMD discs. These discs can hold up to 1.8gb of data. UMDs (Universal Media Discs) are miniDVD based, though blank ones are not available. The discs are contained inside a plastic caddy to protect them from dust and damage. They are used to store both games and movies. The load times for UMDs can be a bit on the slow side since they are optical discs. Besides UMDs, the PSP has expandable, writeable storage in the form of Sony's Memory Stick Pro Duo flash cards. The cards are used with Sony branded digital cameras and are thus widely available. They range in size up to 8gb with a 16gb card on the way. The cards have come down drastically in price recently but are still more expensive than comparable Secure Digital cards. A memory stick is required for game saves since the PSP has no built in storage.
The control layout is based on a cut down version of the DualShock. It has a D-Pad, four right hand buttons (X, Square, Triangle, and Circle), and two shoulder buttons. Unlike many other portables, the PSP features an analogue stick (called the nub) for fine control in a 3D environment. As with the DS, I'll discuss how well the control works when I get to gameplay.
For connectivity, the PSP has a USB port, 802.11b Wifi, and an IR adapter. Unfortunately, Sony does not provide a USB cable with the system, or at least mine didn't. You'll need to buy one with a male type B connector like the one used for charging the PS3's controllers. It is used to connect the system to a PC, Mac, or PS3 to upload or download files to and from the system. The wireless networking feature is speeder and more robust than on the DS, allowing the system to stream media from a PS3 (or PC with special software) or the internet, browse the internet, and talk on Skype. 802.11b runs at up to 11mbits/s, enough for streaming uncompressed CD quality audio under ideal conditions. The IR port on the original PSP was added but never officially used. It has been removed on the newer models.
In 2007, the PSP was redesigned. Above I've been discussing the original PSP-1000 model. The new model, dubbed the Slim & Lite, or PSP-2000, includes a few new features. Physically, the new system is 20% thinner and 33% lighter than the original. Under the hood, it includes 64mb or RAM, a UMD caching feature for faster load times, charging of the system via USB, and TV out. The additional memory is needed for caching and other applications such as Skype. The IR receiver was removed with the Wifi activation switch moved in its place. The speakers have also been moved near the top of the screen. There's really not a heck of a lot of difference between the two systems once you strip them down. Game and media performance is identical. It retails for $169.99 for the core pack and $199.99 for the Value packs.
Onto gameplay. As I mentioned, the PSP is essentially a portable PS2 with game quality resembling early titles from that system. Games are far more adult oriented for the PSP than they are with the Nintendo DS. Popular titles include Daxter and God of War: Chains of Olympus. It can also play PS1 titles bought and downloaded from the Playstation Store. Original games can also be bought from the store and stored on a Memory Stick. Additionally, demos can also be downloaded from the store allowing you to try before you buy. The Playstation Store can be accessed either through PC or a PS3. Sony is promising a direct to PSP store in the near future.
The system is unique from other portables due to its inclusion of an analogue stick, which some refer to as the nub. Located on the lefthand side, the nub appears as a textured disc. It works like any analogue stick and it's quite responsive. The nub however can be difficult at times, particularly in games that want you to rotate it to perform specific actions. It's not as easy as using a stick design. Given the nature of the system, a stick design would be impractical though since it would likely get broken easily. The system does not include a second analogue stick so camera control can be wonky. Most games will use the shoulder buttons or an automatic camera. Games like Daxter and God of War work well with this system but Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters does not. Another complaint I have is that the system can get somewhat tiresome to hold after a while due to it's layout and bulk. I haven't tried the new Slim model yet. Unlike the DS, the PSP still uses conventional gameplay which is not actually a bad thing but it's not exactly the most innovative either.
For the games themselves, there are a wide variety of titles available spanning various genres and age classes. Patapon and LocoRoco are two excellent, family friendly puzzle games for the system which use colourful 2D environments. God of War satisfies your lust for blood on the go. There are also shooters and 3D platformers, auto racing, RPG, etc. Multiplayer is achieved over Wifi ether using an ad hoc (PSP to PSP) or infrastructure (over a network) mode. You can either connect several PSPs together wirelessly for local play or connect to world servers for online play. In addition, the PSP is region free so games bought in Japan or Europe will work on American systems and vice versa.
Right now, there is a current drought of new titles coming out for the PSP. Sony has admitted that the Western market needs more games. Sony has actively discouraged homebrew gaming due to piracy fears. I feel Sony needs to start encouraging more indie developers to make game for the system by opening it up to alleviate the drought. The fact that so few new titles are being released is really causing the downfall of the system. Developers has claimed piracy (due to homebrew firmware that allows disc images to be played) and lack of sales as the primary reasons for shying away from the PSP. The latter being the main reason.
How about other features? The PSP has been described as a Swiss Army knife. Aside from playing games, it also boasts a wide array additional features that perfectly complement the lifestyle market. In addition to a gaming device, the PSP also boasts personal media and online functionality. It uses the same Xross Media Bar (XMB) interface which allows you to quickly scroll through icons to find what you want. The XMB also features a clock and calendar as well as customizable themes and wallpapers. There are a wide variety of official and user created themes available online or through the Playstation Store. The system can display photos, play music, and play videos. It does a good job at all three of these. For music, it can play back MP3, WMA, and unprotected AAC files at up to 320kb/s. Video can either be stored in MPEG or AVC at up to 480p resolution. Furthermore, it can stream photos and unprotected music and video files from your PS3 using Remote Play. Remote Play allows you to control your PS3 using the PSP's built in WiFi. Unfortunately, Remote Play cannot be used to watch BD movies, DVDs, play most PS3 games, and PS2 games. Pixel Junk Eden is a notable PS3 game that does support Remote Play.
For web connectivity, the PSP can stream RSS 2.0 feeds (but not text RSS feeds), watch live TV using Sony's LocationFree TV media server, listen to internet radio, and browse the web. The PSP's web browser is provided by NetFront. It's a little clunky and doesn't display some web pages correctly. Google however provides a service that converts web pages for use on mobile browsers. The browser does support Adobe Flash, though it is an older version that may not work with some sites. The biggest downfall of the browser is the complicated and tedious text entry system given that the system does not have a keyboard or touch screen. While you can't really use it to visit social networking sites and the like, it's good for getting quick information such as weather reports or news provided you're near a Wifi hotspot. Additionally, the new Slim PSP allows you to make phone calls using the Skype internet phone service if you're near a hot spot. The original PSP does not have this feature.
Additional features can be added thanks to upgradeable firmware. Updates for the system can be downloaded to from your PC to the PSP over USB, or you can use the PSP's built in wifi to download them directly. The advantage to this is that new features can be added to the system over time. For example, the Skype, XMB themes, and internet radio features were not part of the original PSP. This gives the system a longer potential lifespan than past portables.
I would say the PSP is definitely a system worth looking at if you want a portable game device, or want to buy one for someone else as a gift. Even if you don't like the games, it's excellent media and internet functionality will make sure it still gets plenty of use. I give it a 9 out of 10 just for the bang for buck alone. The PSP currently retails in four bundles for North America. The core package includes just the system in piano black, battery, and power adapter with a game and memory card sold separately. It retails for $169.99 though I only recommend this for people who already have a PSP and are looking to upgrade to the new Slim model. As I mentioned, there are three bundles available, all retailing for $199.99. The God of War bundle includes a red PSP with Kratos lithograph, God of War game, and Superbad UMD movie. The Star Wars bundled includes a white PSP with Darth Vader lithograph and Battlefront Renegade Squadron game. The Daxter bundle includes a silver PSP with Daxter game, 1gb memory stick, the Family Guy Freakin Sweet Collection UMD movie. All the above bundles also include the battery and power adapter. In my opinion, the Daxter bundle is the best bang for your buck. Lets move onto score.
-Near Playstation 2 game graphics
-Excellent media capability. Plays movies, music, and photos
-Excellent online capability
-Remote Play for wirelessly interfacing with a PS3
-Good game selection with downloadable content available
-Excellent value for the money
What Doesn't Work
-Short battery life compared to the DS.
-Game drought for new titles
-Analogue nub awkward at times
-Gets dirty easily, no screen protector
-Slow load times with optical media
Score: 9 out of 10
You might be asking how I do with these reviews. I have to admit I really do just pull the scores out of my butt. I do consider several criteria though. As with my DS and PSP reviews indicated, I heavily focus on value and quality. That's why I ranked the PSP higher than the DS given the general trend for devices these days is more all-in-one functionality. What works vs what doesn't also factors in heavily but it depends on how much one benefits the product vs how the other cripples it. How many items I put into each category doesn't determine the score. I might have four pluses and only one minus, but if that minus is particularly sever, it will trump the pluses. It works vice versa as well if issues with the product are minor. Unlike professional reviwers, I don't get paid and this blog isn't sponsored by anyone except Google's free web space.
One of May's anticipated titles is the PS3 exclusive shooter Haze. There's a demo available for it on PSN. I didn't review this particular demo but I think it's worth another look. First of all, let me say that I hate most of the stuff UBIsoft puts out, particularly after getting stung with Lock-On: Modern Air Combat with it's slide show performance and Starforce copy protection. Not all their games are bad such as the Il-2 Forgotten Battles series or Assassin's Creed. However, Haze is shaping up to be a typical UBI game. Now, UBIsoft is the publisher, not the developer, but the publisher is the one who ultimately controls what goes out to the public.
As for Haze, I was rather unimpressed with the demo. It's a typical shooter asside from the pretty useless Nectar system. Nectar is a bioenhancing drug that gives you temporary super human abilities such as sight, speed, and health recovery. You go around shooting terrorists. This is a pretty standard dystopian future story stripped right out of countless games like the venerable Doom or Half Life. The gaphics were what caught my eye though. They were pretty poor and very blurry for a PS3 title. I've noted this before on some games but Haze is worse than others. Why are they so bad? Derek Littlewood, the creative lead on the game gave the answer in an interview with Ripten. The game runs at 1024x576 rather than 1280x720 (aka 720p). Therefore Haze is not in high definition but rather enhanced definition. This is a slightly higher resolution than the European PAL format of 576p but it is a non-standard resolution. The PS3 therefore has to upscale the video to 720p or 1080i/1080p. This is what makes the graphics blurry, especially on my monitor which is 1440x900. That means for me the game has to be upscaled twice. Once by the PS3, once by the monitor. This new information goes against what was written on the Playstation Blog which stated that it does run at 720p.
A lot of gamers say they don't care, they just want to play the game. However, I think it's deceptive to say a game runs at said resolution when it actually does not. It's also bad on the developer's part for not making a game that can run in HD on an HD console. Haze is certainly not going to tax your PS3 since the graphics are inferior to titles such as Uncharted which does run at 720p. Overall, May has been a pretty crappy month for gaming. Yes, I'm aware that GTAIV was a good game this month but that's not my cup of tea to begin with. Hopefully June with MGS4 and Secret Agent Clank will be a better month.
Update: IGN has been receiving some criticism for giving Haze a 4.5 out of 10. After playing the demo, I kind of agree with this. IGN is often criticized for being "paid off" by Microsoft and being 360 fanboys but I really do think Haze deserves it. The graphics aren't stunning and the gameplay is pedestrian. There are worse games than Haze though but it's not something I'd spend $60 on. Rent only.
I recently got my hands on a Nintendo DS Lite for the weekend so I thought I'd review it as I did with the other consoles. This past week, CNet did a run down putting the DS head to head with the PSP. The two portables were the first seventh generation consoles to hit the market, hitting North American shores back in 2005. For years, Nintendo has completely dominated the hand held console market with the Gameboy. The system which premièred in 1989 sported longer battery life and a better library of games than its competitors even if the graphics and sound were inferior. Nintendo has lost some ground to Sony's Playstation Portable recently, which is currently the top selling handheld in the vital Japanese market. The Nintendo DS is the first portable made by Nintendo not to be christened Gameboy. Does it live up to its predecessors? Has the Gameboy grown into a Gameman? Let's take a closer look.
First, we'll start by looking at the system from a technical standpoint. Nintendo has always been innovative with their products. The DS in Nintendo DS stands for "dual screen". It features two 3'' LCD screens with a resolution of 256x192 in a 4:3 aspect ratio. In comparison, the PSP has a single 4.3'' LCD with a resolution of 480x272 and a 16:9 aspect ratio. One of the crowning features of the DS which separates it from the Gameboy Advance is the addition of a touch screen. The DS uses a stylus for input using the touch screen. Commands are entered into the lower screen using a small, plastic, pen-like pointer. I'll discuss this in further detail when I get to gameplay. Only the lower screen has touch recognition. Aside from the touch screen, the DS features two shoulder buttons, a standard D-pad, and four control buttons. It does not have an analogue stick. It also has a microphone for voice recognition in some games.
Under the hood, the system is powered by two ARM RISC 32-bit processors running at 67mhz and 33mhz respectively. Presumably the second processor provided backwards compatibility for Gameboy Advance titles, since it's the same processor used in that system. The system has 4mb of Mobile RAM. The games themselves are stored on flash cards rather than optical discs that the PSP uses. As with all cartridge based games, load times are virtually non-existent. The flash based game cards store up to 256MB with 64MB being typical. Some memory on the cards is left open for game saves. Unlike other systems, the DS has no expandable storage beyond the game cards. As I mentioned, the DS Lite is backwards compatible with Gameboy Advanced cartridges in single player mode only. The quality of the graphics are similar to N64 titles. For audio, the DS has two stereo speakers next to the top screen which provide surprisingly decent sound. The audio quality is similar to that of a N64 game. The volume control is a weird slider though rather than using a wheel or digital controls.
For connectivity and multiplayer for DS titles, the system has Wifi, which it lists as being just 802.11. Presumably this is legacy 802.11 which runs at up to 2mbits/s. An Opara browser add-on was made but has since been discontinued in North America due to poor performance.
Nintendo released the DS Lite in 2006. It is smaller and lighter than the original DS. The DS Lite has identical features to the original but besides the shrink, some of the buttons were moved. It has a glossy white finish similar to the Wii. Both the DS Lite and DS have a clamshell design. While the outside case is glossy, the inside has a matte finish so it's not the fingerprint magnet that the PSP is. The screens also have a matte finish to prevent glare. Aside from white, it also comes in red, coral pink, cobalt blue, and onyx (black).
Now onto gameplay. The game I had with it was The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass. I've played every single Zelda game with the exception of the CD-I titles, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. The portable Zelda titles have usually been as strong as their console counterparts. Take Link's Awakening for example which was pretty much a masterpiece for a portable system at the time. I also enjoyed Ages and Seasons as well as the Minish Cap. Compared to these four, Phantom Hourglass is probably one of the weaker titles alongside black sheep Zelda 2. It seems to be a direct sequel of Wind Waker. Zelda (Tetra) has been kidnapped by a ghost ship and it's up to Link to rescue her. The game does not take place in Hyrule but rather on several islands at sea. The worlds feel a lot smaller and the dungeons and bosses were too easy compared to the other Zelda games. The game makes heavy use of the stylus and microphone with no option for conventional gameplay. I found the stylus interesting since it allows you to directly interact with the screen. It makes targeting enemies easy. To move Link around, you drag and hold the stylus in the direction you want him to go. One annoying thing is the use of the mic. I really don't want to have to talk to my games, especially if I'm out in public. It is used to bow out torches and candles to open new passages in the Fire temple by softly blowing into it, which is interesting. Still, I think I would have preferred it if they stuck to the conventional formula for a Zelda game. It just didn't feel like it fit in with the series. It's one of the first Zelda titles where I've ever been bored. It was simply too easy and got repetitive at times. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try any other DS titles. The games for the DS have a fairly good mix of genres but they're still kid oriented. Unfortunately, where as past Gameboy titles could be easily enjoyed by adults, DS titles are heavily focused on a younger crowd. Games like Brain Age are targeted at casual adult gamers but I haven't played educational games since the third grade. I can see young kids really enjoying this system, until they loose the stylus one too many times. Nintendo does throw in a spare but I know how I was when I was little. I would have liked to try Pokemon or Mario. Pokemon has always been one of Nintendo's strongest exclusively portable titles and I've heard good things about Diamond and Pearl.
Another thing I though was odd about gameplay was the dual screens. In some aspects it's useful. Your map in Hourglass sticks to the top while you control the bottom screen. There's no flipping menus to see where you are. However, sometimes the two screens get in the way of each other. The top screen can also be pretty superfluous at times. Personally, I would have preferred one big touch screen to two small ones.
A final note on the games. The Nintendo DS is currently the only seventh generation platform that does not support downloadable content. I think this is a major weakness given how big the internet plays with gaming today, especially given the DS's much touted WiFi capability. Sony's PSP currently allows both PS1 and PSP games to be bought from the Playstation Store. Nintendo's own Wii has it's Virtual Console and WiiWare. Without any expandable storage beyond the game cards, the DS is frozen in time. Games cannot be updated, firmware adding new features can't be updated, users can't purchase downloadable games online, and addon content made by either users or developers can't be added. Nintendo obviously doesn't want to release blank game cards due to piracy fears so people seeking online content will have to look elsewhere. For such an innovative company, it was foolish of Nintendo to leave this out. Maybe it was to keep costs down, but given the price of the DS, I don't think it would be a problem. I'll get to that in a second.
Now onto functionality and value. So what else does the DS do besides play games? Well, nothing. It can't play music and has no storage support for downloadable titles. You can't use it to play music or watch movies though there are third party add-ons coming out that promise MP3 support by using micro SD cards interfaced with a DS game card adapter. The system software is very basic. It has a clock and calendar on the top screen and game selection and chat are on the bottom. Picochat is the DS's very basic online chat program. Without additional storage, the number of game saves you have is very limited. Nintendo endeavoured to create a handheld that just does one thing well, play games, and that they did. However, I can't help but feel it's overpriced at $139.99. For that, you get no games or accessories. Since CNet thought it fitting to compare the DS to the PSP, lets look at it from a value perspective. The PSP Daxter bundle costs $199.99. The items included in the bundle add up to $70.97 meaning the system itself only costs $129.02, over ten dollars cheaper than the DS. Now, I'm not a Sony fanboy and the PSP is far from perfect. I think every warm blooded gamer has a soft spot for Nintendo. That doesn't mean I have to like, or force myself to like everything they come out with. They have come out with some pretty goofy stuff over the years. However, the Nintendo DS is certainly not a VirtualBoy. It's not a bad system by any means. It offers a wide library of family friendly games and the touch screen system is innovative. However, I think the DS at its $139.99 price point is expensive. Past Gameboy models have traditionally sold for under $100 US. Given its fairly limited ability compared to Sony's PSP, the DS at it's current price is of poor value. Nintendo really needs to lower its price to at least $120. Still, it's high price point and lack of features hasn't hurt sales. I would recommend this system for any pre-teen gamer. For teens and adults, you're better off with the PSP since they will appreciate it's more adult oriented games and features. Even if you hate the games, it's still usable. Lets get onto the rankings.
-Innovative stylus control and touch screen
-Wide library of family friendly games
-N64 quality graphics and audio
-Flash based games, no load times
What Doesn't Work
-Limited functionality beyond gaming
-High price point for little value
-No downloadable content
-Some games don't support conventional control
-No expandable storage, no onboard storage
-Would prefer one big touch screen instead of two small ones
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Mozilla has released the first Release Candidate (RC) version of the new Firefox 3 web browser. Before, I reviewed the Beta 5 version for OS X but I did note some problems. Some in particular were slow load times, memory usage was still high, and the browser would occasionally crash when trying to use the menu bar. I also noticed that performance on Blogger was very slow forcing me to use Safari or my PC instead for my entries. Fortunately, these issues have been cleared up. Memory usage has gone down further by 5-10mb, web page loads are nice and speedy, and the browser no longer crashes. As for the Windows version, I had no problems with Beta 5 to begin with so I didn't notice any real differences between it and RC 1. Popular addons like Ad-block Plus work with RC1. Once again, Mozilla has proved that open source cannot only be a viable alternative, but can also be superior to commercial software. You can download it here.
So why review demos when they're free for everybody to try. There's a couple of reasons. First off, I just like too. Secondly, they can be pretty indicative of what the final game will be like. I'm a strong believer that demos should be available for all games since we can see for ourselves whether or not the game is any decent before we invest $60 in the full product. That's what has made the next gen consoles so great since their online services all offer some sort of "try before you buy" feature. Many of my game purchasing decisions were made by whether or not I liked a demo. The great thing about Sony is that they offer downloadable demos for the PSP, which was not possible for handhelds until recently.
Today's demo on tap for review is Secret Agent Clank. It's the latest in the Ratchet and Clank series. It was developed by High Impact Games (as was Size Matters) rather than series creator Insomniac. The game is fundamentally similar to the other titles in the series but with a few twists. The game starts out with Lombax hero Ratchet being arrested for stealing a rare crystal from a museum. Ratchet doesn't seem to be his usual hero self and he is thrown in prison for the crime. The primary difference between this game and others in the series is that you play as Clank, Ratchet's little robot sidekick. Clank has always been a playable character for some missions in previous titles but this is his first time as the star. It seems he's gotten a job with a spy agency and its up to him to find out what happened to Ratchet. Dressed in a James Bond-esq tux and bow-tie, Clank must infiltrate the museum to look for clues.
The demo features three playable levels. Two as Clank and one as Ratchet. In previous titles, the goal was to shoot everything in sight. However, Secret Agent Clank takes a slightly different approach. When playing as Clank, stealth is the key. You want to stay out of the guards' flashlights in order to avoid being detected. Getting caught will unleash the guards and their robot attack dogs on you. Your goal is to dodge the lights and avoid getting caught. Clank can disguise himself as statues or plant as well in certain spots to avoid being detected. If you're caught, you will have to fight your way out. Clank's primary weapon is Clank-fu, a melee attack where he can punch and kick. You can also trigger a stealth combo by sneaking up behind unsuspecting guards and pressing the correct buttons to take them out before they know what hit them. The goal is not to get in fights at all. You get a bonus for stealthy actions, which will grant you more nanotech. As in previous games, nanotech bonuses grant you more health. Clank also gathers secret spy gear to assist him, such as the tie-a-rang. Odd Job had his razor sharp hat, Clank has a razor sharp bow-tie that he can throw at enemies to take them out, or to cut cables in certain areas. Certain rooms will have laser security grids to sneak buy. The blackout pen shoots ink at the laser emitters, blinding them to allow Clank to sneak buy. Clank seems to have lost his helicopter attachment but instead he can find rocket boots to jump over high barriers.
The second level includes a new kind of gameplay to the series. Well, it's new to me anyway since I haven't played the PS2 games. The second level comprises of a rhythm game. Tools of Destruction had a similar game but this one is more in line with Patapon. A bar scrolls at the bottom with a line at one end. Hit or hold the correct buttons just as they pass through the line to allow Clank to trigger ninja stealth moves to sneak past the guards and laser grids. Miss too many and Clank will run into some trouble and take some damage. These types of games are getting very popular and I think this works very well.
There's not much to say about the third level. It's a standard Ratchet arena level where he must finish off nine rounds of baddies in a prison yard fight. Fortunately, Clank can smuggle in your lacerator gun should he find it in the first level. You also get the shard gun midway in the rounds and you have your trusty wrench from the beginning. A new weapon gained at the end of the fight allows you to use a super punch. Overall, gameplay is good for this title except for one problem which I'll get to when I discuss the technical side.
Graphics wise, Secret Agent Clank is identical to Size Matters. The game doesn't exactly use the PSP to its full potential. Presumably it uses the same engine as Size. However, graphics are still colourful and the level designs are nice. One lingering problem remains though, and that's the bad camera. Since the PSP doesn't have a second analogue stick, you have to use the shoulder buttons to readjust the camera. This isn't a problem in normal game play but it can really get in the way when you're in the thick of combat. In strafe mode, the camera can really get in the way since enemies aren't always targeted. If you're not careful, and enemy can come up behind you and you'll get hit without even realizing it. Tools of Destruction on the PS3 had an excellent camera and targeting system but not the PSP titles. Personally, I would have liked to see a targeting system similar to the one used on the N64 with the Zelda games. I use the N64 for reference since it too only had one analogue stick. The camera is really the only problem with this game, but we all know how a bad camera can ruin a great game.
Overall, I like this game. It's a nice change of pace from the traditional R&C titles. It looks good, it plays good, and the demo is pretty meaty considering some of the other once I've recently reviewed. High Impact needs to fix the camera though but overall, this is shaping up to be a decent game.
-Clank is now the hero!
-Well designed, colourful levels.
-New stealth and rhythm modes
What Doesn't Work:
Score: 8 out of 10
CNET had an interesting article titled "12 Ways to Make the PS3 Perfect". It still is one of the best off-the-shelf HTPCs on the market as well as being a great game console but it does have its flaws. Lets start with a rundown of CNET's suggestions and then I'll add my own.
"Merchandising! We put the picture's name on everything!" I never did get that Spaceballs The Flamethrower. Movies tend not to do as well as they used to in the cinema so lets sell some junk to fill in the bucks. What's selling big today? Why games of course! The problem is that a hit movie is often very difficult to adapt to a video game. We first saw that with ET way back in the 80s. Little did we know that was just the tip of the iceberg. Since then we've had a whole host of bad movie based games and just as many bad game based movies. You'd think Hollywood would learn that games and movies don't mix, unless you're LucasArts of course who was smart enough to move into the series' expanded universe early on.
Last year, Codemasters had a hit with Dirt, the latest in the Colin McRae racing series that was renamed after his untimely death. This year, Codemasters is releasing the next generation edition of Race Driver: GRID. The demo was made available today for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
Up until fairly recently, if you wanted a high power gaming system, you needed a Windows PC. When it comes to gaming, a PC has numerous advantages over a console, primarily in terms of customization. It's possible to stay ahead of the curve with the latest and greatest hardware or build a rig to suit your needs and budget. You also have access to more downloadable content and user made mods. However, PC gaming in the last couple of years has been sinking dramatically, along with the quality of the games. Last year, I went off on a rant about how poorly coded PC games were becoming and how the Bioshock demo messed up my computer. I also touched on this problem in my 10 ways to improve gaming list. The sad truth that a lot of enthusiasts are discovering is that PC gaming seems to be dying. The question is why.
I thought I'd finish off the PC cooling guide with some of the more exotic cooling methods. This isn't a how-to but rather just some info on some of the more unorthodox methods of keeping the heat down. One of the problems with both air and water cooling is that they can only cool to ambient air temperature. That's assuming 100% efficiency, which is impossible. The more exotic methods, however, can cool your CPU to sub-zero temperatures.
Liquid cooling is a more exotic cooling method used mostly by enthusiasts. You're probably most familiar with this type of cooling as it is used in your car. There isn't a heck of a lot of difference between automotive liquid cooling and the type used for PCs. They feature the same basic components and cool in the same manner. Using liquid to cool your PC is more expensive than air but it can be more efficient. Water is able to hold a tremendous amount of heat and releases it relatively quickly. I'm not really an expert on liquid cooling, but I feel letting beginners know a little bit about it complements my air cooling article. Lets go over the basics.
I thought I'd do a bit on PC cooling. I'm not really going to recommend any specific products here though I can point you in the right direction. Lets start with basics. Heat is the enemy of all electronics. Take the Xbox 36o for example who's primary issues were the result of poor cooling. Too much heat can shorten the lifespan of components. If safety limits are exceeded, too much heat can ever fry your processors. That's why good cooling is one of the most important aspects to consider when building or upgrading a system. There are two ways to cool computers these days. Air cooling is the most popular and its a veteran of the computing world. It uses fans that circulate air through the casing and over heat-sinks to cool processors. Another method is liquid cooling, which pumps coolant through hoses to a series of water-blocks. The coolant is typically distilled water with anti algae and corrosion chemicals added. Liquid cooling isn't common but it has become more popular in recent years. I'll cover the basics of both. Furthermore, there are more exotic methods such as using thermal-electric cooling, oil, dry ice, etc. Since these are experimental, I won't discuss them.